WE Charity says email to Morneau was about COVID-19 science, not student program

Published August 21, 2020 at 12:12 am


OTTAWA — WE Charity is shedding more light on a controversial email from co-founder Craig Kielburger to then-finance minister Bill Morneau this spring, saying it was about a possible second wave of COVID-19 — not securing government business.

The message was among thousands of pages of documents about the WE Charity affair the Liberal government released this week as it prorogued Parliament.

But like many of the newly released records it was heavily blacked out, making it difficult to know what Kielburger was communicating to Morneau.

The document was among those Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre pointed to in a news conference Wednesday in alleging a coverup of the Liberal government’s decision to have WE Charity administer a multimillion-dollar student-volunteer program.

“We’d love to learn about the attached documents in it, but unfortunately, in what is to become a trend throughout this package, all the relevant information in the two documents are completely blacked out,” Poilievre said.

In a statement Thursday, WE Charity said the April 26 message included two reports from epidemiologists concerning second-wave COVID-19 predictions — reports Kielburger had mentioned to Morneau in a phone call the previous day.

The charity said the phone call, as Morneau has testified to a parliamentary committee, was made by the minister as part of a series of calls to businesses and non-profit organizations on the impact of COVID-19.

“During that call Minister Morneau asked general questions about Mr. Kielburger’s view of the non-for profit sector and youth. There were no discussions of the (student grant) program in this call,” WE Charity’s statement said.

“Given the context of the conversation about COVID-19, during the conversation Mr. Kielburger described two reports that he recently read about COVID-19 and offered to send the reports to Minister Morneau.”

As evidence, the charity released additional portions of the email, which mentions the two attachments — one concerning work by a University of Toronto epidemiologist on modelling projections for Ontario, and the second a transcript of a conversation about impact on markets.

“I realize that your team provides you access to extraordinary data,” Kielburger wrote in the email. “If helpful, attached are two documents.”

The thousands of pages of newly released records seem to back up the Trudeau government’s assertion it was federal public servants who recommended the student service grant program be administered by WE Charity.

But they also suggest bureaucrats may have been encouraged to pursue that course by their political masters, including officials in Morneau’s office.

On April 20, Amitpal Singh, a policy adviser to Morneau, emailed a Finance Department official to say he had spoken with the team at WE that morning.

“We should be receiving an updated paper soon from them, and as soon as we get policy approvals I think we should reach out and bring them into the fold,” he wrote.

Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Morneau, who resigned as finance minister this week, are being investigated by the federal ethics watchdog over whether they violated the Conflict of Interest Act over the WE Charity deal. They both have close family ties to the organization and have apologized for not recusing themselves from the decision to award the contract to WE.

The records also indicate Kielburger and Morneau were on friendly terms.

Earlier in April, Kielburger emailed Morneau about a possible youth entrepreneurship program, offering good wishes to the minister’s family.

“Hi Bill. I hope this finds you, Nancy, Henry, Clare, Edward and Grace enjoying some well-deserved downtime over Easter together,” Kielburger wrote.

“I cannot imagine the pace of information and decision-making over the past weeks. You once told me that you sought public office to make a difference — and this is certainly the most defining impact that you will ever have for the country.”

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

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